By Alexander Lawrie, Deadline Press and Picture Agency
AS THE whole of the country prepares to hold its breath on Saturday afternoon, the last thing the nation wants is for a Scottish goalkeeper to give the Italian team any presents.
But it has emerged that kind-hearted Scotland goalie Craig Gordon delivered a very special gift to his local Italian restaurant just days after Scotland and Italy last met.
Staff at Dante’s Trattoria were stunned when the Sunderland keeper appeared at their door carrying a plain, plastic carrier bag. Inside was a piece of priceless memorabilia that any Italian fan would kill for – Alessandro Del Piero’s famous No. 7 shirt.
The Juventus-mad staff at the Edinburgh restaurant were delighted with the gift, and by the generosity shown by the UK’s most expensive keeper.
Gordon was in a Bari hotel relaxing with teammates the evening before the match last March, when he spotted an unusual looking pool table with no pockets. Intrigued, the goalkeeper texted close friends Remo and Fabio Margiotta back in Edinburgh asking for instructions on how to play the unusual game.
Fabio, a part owner in the restaurant, agreed to explain the rules of Italian Billiards on the proviso that the 6’4 stopper brought back the strip worn by his hero, Del Piero. After the Scots defeat in Bari the following evening, Gordon swapped his own shirt with Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
But after remembering his promise, he asked the Scottish kit man to go into the Italian dressing room and ask for the Juventus legend’s strip.
Fabio, 36, said: “We couldn’t believe it when Craig turned up the day after the match carrying a plastic carrier bag with Del Piero’s strip inside. To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement. Not for a moment did we think that he’d remember about the strip.
“He would have so much on his mind that day, and it shows the measure of the man that he thought about two Italian fans back in Edinburgh.
“When he turned up with the strip, myself and Remo were like two little kids trying it on and sending phone pictures to our friends.”
The Scotland stopper grew up in Currie not far from the restaurant and has been a regular customer for many years and has built up a strong Italian fan base in the process.
Fabio added: “We’ve known Craig since he was about 15 and, to be honest the big man is a complete gentleman. Even when he’s been in for a meal with his family he takes the time to speak and sign autographs for anyone who asks.
“Just recently he and his girlfriend were in and there were two small boys, obviously Hearts fans, who were just in awe of him and were a bit scared of approaching him.
“Craig noticed this and went over to the two boys and chatted for ages and signed their autographs. That just illustrates the kind of guy he is. The restaurateurs are honest about who they will be supporting come Saturday, but try their best to be as diplomatic as possible.
Fabio added: “Obviously we want Craig and Scotland to do well, but we are Italian supporters afterall. So picking a winner is going to be a no-win situation for us.
“Ideally, we’d love to see a draw and then for the Ukraine to beat France the following Wednesday. As long as the Italians beat the Faroes the same night, that would mean both Italy and Scotland qualifying. “For us, that would be the best scenario. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.”
The 24 year-old Sunderland No. 1 was transferred from his boyhood heroes, Hearts, last August after falling foul of the club’s Lithuanian owner, Vladimir Romanov. The fee of £9 million Hearts received is the current British record for a goalkeeper.